Meryem Benjelloun enjoyed the “typical high school experience” in Bay Ridge, New York, until her senior year, when “things changed.” She recalls, “I felt different from everyone else.”
Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Benjelloun came to the U.S. with her family at the age of eight. Her parents decided to start a new life in a new country after their business endeavors failed back home. She falls right in the middle of her large family, with two older, DACAmented sisters and two younger American-born sisters. Her first memory of America traces back to her first grade class. As a child, she fell in love with the positive vibe that came with a country that was as full of energy as New York City, and more. She recalls that the impossible was almost possible – something that she was not familiar with before. With time, America became home. “I always considered myself as an American and loved this country deeply when I first stepped foot,” she says.
When asked how she felt different from everyone else at that time, Meryem explains:
I was an A+ student, graduating with an honors diploma. However, when it came down to applying for college, I was rejected from every single one. I went to the college office to get help, and I was rejected by [certain] teachers because of my status. It was painful, to be honest, it was a painful experience.”
In 2012, the reality of not being able to transition to college like her peers when she graduated from Fort Hamilton High School began to sink in. Growing up, her parents “worked a lot, to make sure that things were the same, like they used to be” so that she wouldn’t feel any different. “My parents have always been encouraging, believing in me, and trying to give me the best advice that they can. [They] did not want us to feel like we were outsiders… [But] we were different. We weren’t like everyone else. We couldn’t just do anything.”
Things turned around when her mother, who speaks Spanish, saw an advertisement for TheDream.US scholarship on the Univision TV channel one day, and encouraged her daughter to apply. In Fall 2015, Meryem begins at Queens College in New York, majoring in Accounting. “With the scholarship, it’s gotten easier. I’m not as stressed as I was before; the financial burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I don’t have to worry about working a full-time job in order to save up for each semester, while trying to keep up with classes. I don’t have to worry about not having enough money for a lot of things. So the scholarship is making it a lot easier,” she says.
She plans to take the CPA exam in order to “climb that ladder and settle down. I just want to get what I deserve out of hard work,” she says.
The experience has taught Meryem to never give up:
I have learned to always keep an open mind. Just go with what life throws at you and never lose hope because you never know what’s around the corner. I learned that there are doors out there that can be opened – accept the challenges and keep going with your head held high.”
Her ultimate goal is to make her parents proud and for them to see that their sacrifices weren’t for nothing. She says, “it would mean a lot to me if I accomplish the American dream; my parents did this for us. I want them to know that it was worth it – every fear that they had, every tear that rolled down their face and every wall that they couldn’t pass – just for us. I bet that’s what every dreamer is after, too.”